Those oh-so-objective journalists at the New York Times went after a fellow journalist, NBC’s Today show host Matt Lauer, for the crime of being unfair to Hillary Clinton and not sufficiently attacking Donald Trump, both during and after the MSNBC/NBC Commander in Chief Forum Wednesday night. Reporter Maggie Haberman was particularly perturbed, lamenting constantly during live coverage about how “rough” the questions were for Hillary, and that Trump got off easy: “Clinton basically got a two-by-four equivalent in the questions, well beyond emails. Trump got tapped on the cheek.”
Lauer was indeed tougher on Hillary than many expected, grilling her over her private server and mishandling of classified documents, and the Times reacted with alarm, claiming Lauer was being inundated with criticism from all sides ,when in fact it was coming almost entirely from hurt Hillary supporters.
Times reporter Michael Grynbaum dutifully attacked a fellow journalist, to Clinton’s benefit, in Thursday’s edition: “Moderator of Clinton-Trump Forum Fields a Storm of Criticism.”
It was a high-stakes political moment, far from the chummier confines of the “Today” show and, for Matt Lauer, NBC’s stalwart of the morning, a chance to prove his broadcasting mettle on the presidential stage.
The consensus afterward was not kind.
Charged with overseeing a live prime-time forum with Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton -- widely seen as a dry run of sorts for the coming presidential debates -- Mr. Lauer found himself besieged on Wednesday evening by critics of all political stripes, who accused the anchor of unfairness, sloppiness and even sexism in his handling of the event.
One of Grynbaum’s complains? Too much time spent on Hillary’s emails:
Granted 30 minutes with each candidate, who appeared back-to-back at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in Manhattan, Mr. Lauer devoted about a third of his time with Mrs. Clinton to questions about her use of a private email server, then seemed to rush through subsequent queries about weighty topics like domestic terror attacks.
When an Army veteran in the audience asked Mrs. Clinton to describe her plan to defeat the Islamic State, Mr. Lauer interjected before the candidate could begin her reply.
“As briefly as you can,” he said, one of several moments where the anchor spoke over Mrs. Clinton to remind her that their time was running short.
Drawing particular ire was the moment when Mr. Trump asserted, with his usual confidence: “I was totally against the war in Iraq.”
In fact, Mr. Trump initially said he supported the war, a point that Mrs. Clinton had raised earlier in the evening, citing an interview that Mr. Trump had given to Howard Stern. But Mr. Lauer left the assertion unchallenged, zipping along to his next question about Mr. Trump’s professed tendency to “say things that you later regret.”
Journalists and longtime political observers pounced. “How in the hell does Lauer not factcheck Trump lying about Iraq? This is embarrassingly bad,” wrote Tommy Vietor, a former aide to President Obama. Glenn Kessler, the chief fact checker at The Washington Post, posted a link to NBC’s check of Mr. Trump’s claim and wrote: “@MLauer should have been prepared to do this.”
Grynbaum ludicrously considered media coverage unfair to the Democratic candidate.
The criticism captured what has become a common complaint about media coverage during this election: that news organizations and interviewers treat Mrs. Clinton as a serious candidate worthy of tough questions, while Mr. Trump is sometimes handled more benignly.
Still, with the formal debates set to begin on Sept. 26, Mr. Lauer’s performance seemed to preview the troubles that television moderators could face in balancing fairness with accountability....
The whining started during the NYT’s live team coverage of the forum.
Before the start, reporter Maggie Haberman was optimistic about Hillary’s chances: "While it’s a veterans forum specifically, she has the chance to use it to point to the commander-in-chief test, at a moment when Trump is making a pretty barely veiled gender comment about how she doesn’t “look” presidential."
Adam Nagourney didn’t appreciate Matt Lauer bringing up Hillary’s mishandling of classified documents and dubiously suggested the topic had nothing to do with national security (doesn’t it have everything to do with national security?): “The email! Didn’t take long to get off national security!”
After Clinton was forced to respond “It was a mistake to have a personal account. It was something that should not have been done,” Haberman sighed at the alleged irrelevance of the topic: “So much for the vets.” As if veterans couldn’t possibly care about handling of classified documents.
But reporter Nick Confessore stuck up for the line of questioning: “Maggie, I’ve actually heard a lot from vets about the emails. It is a real annoyance to them....They feel a double standard at play – many have stories of friends being cashiered or punished for far more minute or accidental violations.”
Nagourney predicted a liberal backlash: “I’m not sure I would have made this my second question in a forum on national security and veterans. I’m betting he’s going to hear from Brooklyn tomorrow.”
Haberman seemed taken aback by the challenging questions to Hillary, as if she’d been hoping for kid glove handling: “Adam, I’m very surprised....There had been an expectation that Lauer was going to be somewhat gentle.”
A few minutes later, after a veteran posed another challenging question on the email front, Haberman said, “This is harsh.”
Nagourney accurately predicted (and signed on to?) a media backlash against Matt Lauer: “Not sure this is remotely living up to what this forum was billed as. There will probably be Matt Lauer stories tomorrow.”
Haberman again whined: “This is rough so far, guys. This isn’t asking her about what she would do. It’s asking her about why she’s been flawed in the past.”
Even after Donald Trump came on stage for his turn in the barrel, Haberman was still defending Clinton from Lauer’s unfair questioning: “These are not specific questions or anything near the level of specifics Clinton got.”
Nagourney also chided the line of questioning Hillary got: “I think questions about email are appropriate too, Nick, but when you have so little time, I’m not sure I would have spent so much time on that.”
Haberman seconded the notion: “The email questions are indeed appropriate. There were just many of them.”
About midway through the Trump interrogation, Haberman found Lauer lacking in anti-Trump ferocity: “Lauer is sort of challenging Trump now. Sort of.” A few minutes later she said “Lauer is really giving Trump a tremendous amount of room to explain why he should be graded on a curve on military and national security.”
When it was over, Haberman lamented that Trump got off easy while Hillary was walloped: “Clinton basically got a two-by-four equivalent in the questions, well beyond emails. Trump got tapped on the cheek.”